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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 01, 2006

    President's Message

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 79, No. 6, June 2006

    Sincerely ...

    Ours is an honorable profession. We help people at crucial moments in their lives; we support our communities; and we serve our colleagues. With respectful, candid discussion and fair treatment, lawyers working together can find workable solutions to even contentious issues.

    by D. Michael Guerin

    "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
    - Carl W. Buechner

    One now former friend of mine recently informed me that if he opened up his copy of the Wisconsin Lawyer and saw my face one more time, he was going to cancel his subscription. To that individual and others, I can tell you this is my last opportunity to address you as president of the State Bar of Wisconsin. (I am pleased to report that, as a president, I have concluded the year without being indicted and without being impeached. Unindicted and unimpeached - it does have a nice ring to it!)

    I can tell you, unequivocally, that I have enjoyed my opportunity to serve in this capacity for the last year. It has been educational, entertaining, and personally rewarding. I have had the opportunity to meet with lawyers throughout the entire state. I also have had the opportunity to attend numerous conferences with bar leaders from other states who have contributed some intriguing ideas for programs to your bar association.

    Challenges for the Future

    While there have been some rather contentious issues during this year, ultimately people of good will working together can find a solution that is at least workable. One of our most challenging projects that I am proud to have been able to participate in is the Access to Justice Study. This is an ongoing and in depth review of the gap in legal services for indigent persons throughout Wisconsin. We all know that a large percentage of people cannot afford legal services. Some people who have genuine needs are not able to access the resources they require to make intelligent and worthwhile decisions for themselves and their families. The Access to Justice Committee is viewed as providing legal services to poor people and as encouraging lawyers to step up to the plate to meet these needs.

    Another challenge for the bar is the unauthorized practice of law. It would seem best for the protection of consumers and, frankly, for the economic future of lawyers, to define the practice of law and to prevent people who are not properly educated in the law or subject to canons of ethics from performing services where they can harm consumers. As I said, there is a huge gap between the need for legal services and the number of lawyers who are willing to fill those needs. Someone is going to fill that gap. To the extent that we lawyers do not step up to fill it, we cannot be heard to complain later when people who purport to be brokers or paralegals or notarios or some other convenient designation step in to perform what we believe are legal services.

    I personally find it both ironic and troubling that the Wisconsin Legislature is unwilling to spend any effort to see how the state can designate funds to assist in providing legal services, while at the same time the Legislature seems consumed with amending the Wisconsin Constitution to discriminate against people strictly on the basis of their sexual orientation and to establish the death penalty. Interestingly, the United States is one of the last remaining "civilized" countries in the world with a death penalty. I suspect that some people feel that those issues are far more important than making sure we address the ability of our citizens to have attorneys during the crucial times in their lives, or to make sure that the court system is fully equipped to give some semblance of hope to people who look to the court system for their concept of justice. Obviously, I am not one of those people.

    I am also greatly troubled by racial issues in cities across Wisconsin. Recent events in Milwaukee, for instance, confirm that race is still the elephant in the living room - everyone knows it's there, but no one wants to talk about it. As lawyers, we should be in the forefront on this issue.

    Always Remember

    I have so often said that lawyers affect lives. In our practices, we are the problem solvers and the professional advisors. We provide the shoulders that are leaned on and the hands that are held when people face serious issues. Even if we don't get a thank you from our clients, we can be proud of the effect we've had on people's lives and futures.

    We also affect our communities. So many of us are members of the local Rotary and the local bank board, or work at the local soup kitchen or for the local Habitat for Humanity or at the local youth centers. Even more of us use our legal talents in pro bono services to charitable organizations and to individuals in need who cannot afford our full hourly rates. Many in our profession work for nonprofit organizations, providing excellent legal services for a small amount of wages. It impresses me how very much so many in our profession are giving back in their own way.

    Many others of us serve justice as prosecutors, as public defenders, and as other government lawyers. Oftentimes, the services provided by government lawyers are undervalued by the agencies that fund their offices. We all should recognize and appreciate the fine work being done by these individuals.

    To my fellow leaders of the State Bar of Wisconsin, do not forget that you, too, affect lives. It is up to you to provide leadership for the organization. But also understand that you affect the young lawyers of our profession. The decision to attend law school does not necessarily translate into the decision to practice law. It is incumbent on us, as leaders of the profession, to reach out to our new members and to understand their needs as associates, solo practitioners, government lawyers, public interest lawyers, and new members of our professional community.

    It is also incumbent on us, as leaders of the State Bar, to reach out to our fellow attorneys who are suffering from stress, drug or alcohol addiction, or other personal issues that are affecting their practices and their families. I am very proud of the work of the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP) and charge my fellow State Bar leaders to ensure that this vital program has all the tools necessary to carry out its mission.

    Some Parting Thoughts

    As I have told all of you since I first decided to seek the position of State Bar president, I am proud to be a lawyer. I am very troubled when I hear lawyers tell me that they would never recommend that their children choose the profession. I respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree. I continue to recommend to college students, and to my own family, that the law is a profession that is very honorable. To me, lawyers still represent the solution - not the problem.

    Finally, regular readers of this column know that I have begun most of my columns with a quote that, I hope, provided some insight into the topic for that column. The particular quote that begins this column also began my very first letter seeking the office of State Bar president. I thought it only fitting to use it here as, in one way or another, its message has found its way into many of my 11 columns. I truly believe that people will remember how you treat them much more than they will remember what you told them. With that in mind, I realize that you won't remember what I've said during the past year - frankly, I doubt I will remember much of what I've said - but I hope that you will remember that I truly tried to treat everyone with fairness, candor, and respect.

    I sincerely thank you for the opportunity to have served as your president. The best.

    Wisconsin Lawyer

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